Review of Mike Resnick - Starship Mercenary

You know what you will get with a Mike Resnick novel - a galaxy-spanning backdrop, larger than life characters and above all else action. Resnick is not an author who will spend time convincing you of his scientific credentials - you are not going to need to wade through page after page of technical specifications. Nor are you going to receive exquisitely woven intricacy - rich background detail is not Resnick's speciality. After all when you think about it, both of these things would get in the way of the action. And the action is superb.

Wilson Cole and the crew of the former Republic Navy Starship the Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy R) are continuing their attempts to make a life for themselves on the Inner Frontier, outside the reach of the Republic. This is not easy; Cole and his crew are military men and women. They have always lived ordered lives, ruled by discipline and law. The inner frontier, however, is a much different place.

Having tried their hand at ethical piracy - and realised such an endeavour is plainly impossible - this volume sees them becoming mercenaries, although still working within a strong sense of right versus wrong.

This new line of business sees them protecting worlds from the threats of warlords, exposing cheats in casinos and rescuing a fence from incarceration on an alien - all of which Cole achieves using a minimum of force and a maximum of guile. However his ethics over choosing which contracts to accept beings him into conflict with the Valkyrie (or Val as she prefers to be called), a former pirate who joined the Teddy R in the previous book.

When Cole refuses to accept a commission as part of a warlord's armada intent on wiping out a world refusing to pay tribute, Val is incensed (as well as drunk) and heads off to join the mercenary fleet on her own. It's a decision that sees Val and Cole on opposite sides when her warlord new boss and former captain find themselves on opposing sides following an argument in a casino.

In similar fashion to the previous volume Resnick shows the difficulties of trying to operate ethically in a lawless frontier - after all morality applies as loosely to a mercenary as it does to a pirate. Cole, however, has a very strong morale streak and he is determined to apply this to his new professions - despite these attempts seeming very oxymoronic and impossible to fulfil.

Cole as a central character is superb. He is an idealist in many ways, but a realist in his expectations. At the start of this series, whilst he was still a Navy officer, he relieved his captain of command to prevent her from destroying a world and killing millions of sentient beings. He did this fully aware that the Navy would not agree with his actions and that he was heading for a court-martial for mutiny. But he did it anyway, because it was the right thing to do. That one thing sums up his personality.

But this is not a book to succeed or fail on the strength of a single character. His crew is also full of wonderfully real and wonderfully over-the-top characters. Cole's second officer, Forrice (or Four-Eyes) is a sex-crazed alien with an evil sense of humour. Security Chief Sharon Blacksmith is almost Big Brother on legs. David Copperfield, an alien infatuated with the works of Charles Dickens who dresses as an English Victorian gentleman. Val, the redhead giantess former pirate who can outfight, out-drink and out-sex any man. And that's to name just a few.

Resnick writes a kind of fiction that should appeal to fans of Captain Kirk and Arnie-style sf-action movies. But don't think means it is brainless. Resnick delivers morality tales in lawless realms complete with romantic outlaws and much derring-do.

It's not one for the fan of great prose, nor of hard science fiction. But if you want to be entertained and don't care about the (currently-thought) scientific impossibility of faster-than-light travel, the difficulties of maintaining an empire spanning hundreds of thousands of worlds or just how your ship's shields actually work then there are few better than Mike Resnick.

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